Our 2019 Road Trip, Part 5: It Was the Summer of ’96

Olympic rings!

Erected in December 2018, “The Spectacular” is 5000 pounds of aluminum standing 11 feet tall and begging visitors for some selfie love.

Remember that time Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics? They certainly do. They’re one of only three American cities ever to hose the Summer Olympics (an exclusive club they share with Los Angeles and St. Louis), and they will never, ever let anyone forget it.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’d been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we aimed for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. Before we went to D*C, there was the road trip to get there, and the good times to be had before the great times at the big show.

For the tourism half of our week, we managed to work out our itinerary into a logical progression over our first three full days in Atlanta:

  • Monday: The main sightseeing options within walking distance of our hotel
  • Tuesday: All the historical places Anne wanted to see most, and the one museum I wanted to see more than anything else in town
  • Wednesday: The most curious Georgia attraction farthest away from the hotel; then whatever minor sights and errands we could fit in

The plan succeeded, far better than either of us expected. In terms of checking off all the highest ranking items on our to-do list, I don’t think we’ve had a vacation that successful since South Dakota in ’09.

DAY TWO: Monday, August 26th.

Breakfast was a combination of our hotel’s free buffet — which was perfectly fine for what it was — and our leftovers from Pittypat’s Porch the night before. That reuse helped offset its cost, to be sure, though the pecan coated catfish fingers weren’t the same the second time around.

Though all the day’s activities wouldn’t be that far away, I thought it might be fun to save a few blocks of walking and try out some local mass transit. We walked a short block from our hotel to a stop for the Atlanta Streetcar, a limited railway that loops through downtown Atlanta for just twelve stops. Opened for business in December 2014, the Streetcar arrived some 65 years after its more primitive namesakes were put to bed not long after World War II. Rides were only a dollar apiece, with Streetcars theoretically coming every 10-15 minutes, per their website. It sounded like a cute, frivolous way to kick off the day. We saw one pull away just as we walked up, but waiting 10-15 minutes for the next one seemed like no big deal.

The next one arrived some 25 minutes later, saving us whatever calories we might’ve burned if we’d instead opted for what at most would’ve been a ten-minute walk, and that’s only if one of us had had leg cramps. It was nearly deserted, so at least we didn’t have to fight for seats.

Atlanta Streetcar!

Oh, Streetcar!

Our smooth, slow chariot dropped us off across the street from the installation in our lead photo, the five Olympic rings now standing at the southeast entrance to Centennial Olympic Park. Once upon a time it was several blocks of vacant lots and ramshackle buildings long past their expiration date. When Atlanta won the honor of hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics, all those dilapidated spaces were razed and replaced with a much prettier park. Hosting the Olympics was in itself a big deal, but the 1996 Games celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first international Olympic Games held in modern history. Hence the extraordinary efforts to make it count.

The park remains in place to this day, but at 23 years old, a few renovation initiatives have been implemented and more are on the drawing board.

Fountain of Rings!

The Fountain of Rings, 251 water jets arranged in a familiar shape.

Centennial Skyline!

The view eastward from the west end.


Pretty trees around the perimeter. I don’t know a magnolia from a redbud from an apple tree, so your guess is better than mine.

William Porter Payne!

Statue of William Porter Payne, the local businessman and Olympic committee member who pushed hard to help bring the Olympics to Atlanta.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin!

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the 19th-century French founder of the International Olympic Games as we know them today.

Androgyne Planet!

Enric Pladevall’s Androgyne Planet was specially commissioned for the Olympics, though it’s been moved around a bit.

Paralympic Legacy!

Paralympic Legacy, in honor of the 1996 Paralympic Games.

We who didn’t live in Atlanta and who were around back then remember those Olympics not for any great moments in sports, but for a horrid moment of tragedy: the ’96 Atlanta Olympics bombing. A madman set off a device that resulted in the deaths of two people and 111 injured. The perpetrator, who went on the run for years and was responsible for at least three other bombings, was finally apprehended in 2003, caught Dumpster-diving behind a North Carolina grocery store at 4 in the morning. Before he was sentenced to life without parole, he revealed years after the fact his act of evil at the Olympics was intended as an anti-abortion protest. He failed on more levels than I can count.

That tragedy is commemorated here with a “Quilt of Remembrance”, one among several themed “quilt” installations around the park for various purposes.

Quilt of Remembrance.

The Quilt of Remembrance and its message etched around its edges.

Quilt of Origins!

Not far away is the Quilt of Origins and attached sculpture, celebrating the Olympics as a historic institution.

Quilt of Nations!

Above rather than below, the Quilt of Nations is a canopy comprising the flags of that year’s 197 participating countries.

Quilt of Olympic Spirit!

The Quilt of Olympic Spirit is less a square patchwork and more a collection of stones bearing the names of all participating athletes.

Centennial Pool!

Gentle pool near the previous quilt, on the opposite end of the park from the Fountain of Rings.

scooters everywhere!

Once again, scooters everywhere.

Skyview Atlanta!

Special features neighboring the park include Skyview Atlanta, the Ferris wheel we ultimately skipped.

State Farm Arena!

State Farm Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. I’d honestly never heard of them before I looked up State Farm Arena tonight. Longtime MCC readers are aware sports generally aren’t our thing.

book sculpture!

Book sculpture across from the northeast corner, in front of the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. We didn’t bring a kid, though.

Georgia Aquarium!

The Georgia Aquarium was on our “maybe” list all week long but was ultimately cut. Their admission fees were among the highest of anyplace on our list and, to be honest, we’ve seen aquariums.


The Atlanta Olympics: Never Forget We Did Thoses.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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